Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Montana News
Wildfire, fire management and air quality news for western Montana and the Northern Rockies.

Fire Slows Glacier Tourism, But Most Of The Park Remains Open

No smoke is visible from the Apgar Lookout webcam on the west side of Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park
/
No smoke is visible from the Apgar Lookout webcam on the west side of Glacier National Park

As news of the fire on the east side of Glacier National Park spreads, some visitors there are packing their bags and heading west, taking their tourism dollars with them.

Before the fire, the Park was on pace to pass last year’s record setting attendance number of 2.3 million.In June, the number of visitors  was up 24 percent over June of last year.

Tammi Ray co-owns Red Eagle Motel three minutes away from the closed St. Mary Visitor center on the park’s east side. Ray says media coverage of the fire, more than the fire danger itself is what’s provoking people to leave.

"They are hearing on different sites and everything that St. Mary’s has been evacuated. That they can’t get into Glacier Park at all and that the smoke is bad."

Several precautionary evacuations in and around St. Mary Visitor Center have been put into place. Where the fire has spilled outside the park the Glacier County Sheriff’s Office and Blackfeet Law Enforcement have evacuated the west side of Lower St. Mary Lake.

"People think that Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan's pass are the only thing, but in reality that is just a small part of the park."

But, the fire is still miles away from the townsite of St. Mary, where Ray runs her business.

She says guests are leaving even after she explains to them the safety of their location.

"They call and they’ll ask ‘what’s the status of the fire,’ and right now we are in no danger. And I mean now that they are fighting it, but they don’t understand. They just cancel."

Fire officials are most concerned about the fire growing on its east side, that’s, that’s in the direction of St. Mary.

Driving to the Going-to-the-Sun Road from the east side isn’t possible because of closure for fire crew access. About half of the road is still open on the west side.

"People think that Going-to-the-Sun Road and Logan’s pass are the only thing, but in reality that is just a small part of the park."

That’s Randy Hohf. He works at that Glacier National Park Conservancy visitor’s center on the West side of the Park. He says there are still lots of places for visitors to go.

"Most of the most popular trails, Avalanche Creek, are still open. The Loop Trail is still open. Even from this side most of the trails are still open. That other side that is closed, of the road, there aren’t a lot of popular hiking tails on there."

Glacier National Park spans over 1 million acres. Four thousand of those are currently burning in the Reynolds Creek Fire.

Still, with word of thousands of acres blazing the east part of Glacier, some visitors aren’t comfortable being so close for the fire.

Jan Plavka is from the Czech Republic and working at the West Glacier Motel for the summer.

"We basically mostly get calls from St. Mary that they made some cancellations and they want to move here to West Glacier because of the fire.

Glacier National Park spans over 1 million acres. Four thousand of those are currently burning in the Reynolds Creek Fire.

Plavka has also heard of a few guests doing just the opposite, leaving west glacier and heading east to get a better look at the fire. But, he says that isn’t as common.

While some businesses on the east side are struggling to keep visitors from leaving, Darwon Stoneman and his Glacier Raft Company on the west side are enjoying a boost in visitors.

"Yesterday we saw our raft business really jump in the afternoon. And a lot of that was just walk in type business. And I just seems like there’s a lot more traffic here than before that."

Because his company earns a big chunk of its yearly income in the summer, Stoneman says they’re willing to take on the extra traffic.

"We’ve got a short season, so we try not to turn anybody away."

Today, the Park launched a Twitter campaign to let people know that most of Glacier is still open. The feed gives suggestions for hikes and other activities away from where the fire is burning.

Yesterday, Senator Jon Tester set a letter to U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell asking for more resources to combat the fire in Glacier.

In the letter, Tester said the wildfire is threatening one of the country’s most beautiful landscapes, as well as the tourism industry in his home state.

Find more wildfire news and information here.

Related Content